Somehow during the Christmas holidays I lose focus and become a bit more contemplative. This week I am at home, taking care of my children. While you may think that this gives me a lot of time to work at my chess, there actually is surprising little time to do so. There is (the) continuous (threat of) disturbance. Young children in one way or another constantly seek for attention, confirmation, comfort or just turmoil.
Still, all in all it is a great distraction from work and the daily routine at the office. Children are very direct, and it is wonderful to take care of them and give them the opportunity to play and have fun. On the side there is also the chance to do a bit of chess practice, but not the exercises that require focus and concentration (like step 6 exercises or Stoyko exercises) . Instead I have used my time mainly to contemplate a bit about the problems with positional chess training.
Unlike tactical training, it is hard to make positional exercises. The unforced nature of the positions makes the moves more debatable. And sometimes it is more a matter of how to approach a position, than a matter of specific moves. So in most books about positional chess one will find no, or only few, exercises. Most of them give model games that are well analyzed and explained. While I acknowledge that these are very suitable to improve your knowledge, I do quesion if they improve your skill.
Lets take the following position:
This is a position from the game Spassky - Fischer, Santa Monica 1966. It is given in Gelfers Positional Chess Handbook in a chapter about good bishop against bad knight. I will give game moves with Gelfers annotations.
35 h4 Nc4 36 Ke2 Ne5 37 Ke3 Kf6 38 Kf4 Nf7 39 Ke3 39 Bd5 is better (Gelfer). 39 ... g5 40 h5 Black has rid himself of the weakness at g6 but his knight is restricted to watching the passed h-pawn. 40 ... Nh6 41 Kd3 Ke5 42 Ba8 Kd6 43 Kc4 g4 44 a4 Kg8 45 a5 Kh6 46 Be4 g3 47 Kb5 Ng8 48 Bb1 Nh6 49 Ka6 Kc6 50 Ba2 1-0
If you have played through this carefully, you might have the impression that you have learned something that you can use in your games. But how can you be sure that you have? To test this I suggest an exercise that can be done by players of all strengths.
Setup the diagram position in Fritz or any other chess engine you have. Fritz has the option to chose a level. For starters chose a level with a fixed depth. Start with 1 ply, or if this is not challenging enough for you, with 3 ply, and try to win the position against Fritz. If you do, move up a level and play out the position with the engine set to 3 ply. Than 5 ply, and so on until you can't beat the machine anymore. As soon as you stop winning, analyze the games. What went wrong, and where. As soon as you think you know how to do it better, try again at the same level. At one time or another, no matter what you do, you will not win anymore. This is the time to stop and move on to another position.
I do not make claims about the rating points will gain with this exercise, but I do believe it is the best possible way to study most books about positional chess.
To make a name for myself, I do however claim the name "Phaedrus Exercises" for this method of training. Maybe I am mistaken, but I do not believe that (however obvious it is) until today anyone has ever suggested this exercise.
Happy holidays to all A.C.I.S. members and other readers of this blog!